The Mobility Big 3

I used to think age was just a number. One thing changed my mind: getting older. Once I passed age 30, I realized that the miles really do start to add up. Not that we can’t do the things we used to, it just might take an extra minute warm-up.

All of my warm-ups, workouts, and daily life now consist of Mobility Exercises to regain and maintain joint range of motion (ROM). The American Council on Exercise (ACE) defines Joint Mobility as:


“The degree to which an articulation (where two bones meet) is allowed to move before being restricted by surrounding tissues (ligaments/tendons/muscles etc.)… otherwise known as the range of uninhibited movement around a joint.”


Just like the tin man, we need a little oil in our joints to move properly. Think of Mobility Exercises as the oil. But not all joints need the same type of oil.


Joint-by-Joint Theory

First articulated by Gray Cook of FMS and Strength Coach Mike Boyle, the Joint-by-Joint Theory states that each of our joints works in an alternating fashion of mobility and stability. For instance, our ankle is very mobile (able to move any which way), our knee very stable (hopefully mostly moving forward and back), the hip again is very mobile, the low back very stable, and so on.

Lacking mobility in one joint can cause issues, including pain and injury, in the joint above or below because it’s compensating for that lack of movement. So when your knee aches, it’s probably not your knee’s fault. Check your ankle and hip. When your low back aches, check your hip and t-spine.


What this theory means for us

To find which of our joints are lacking mobility or ROM, we would need some type of movement screen or assessment. However, thanks to the Joint-by-Joint Theory, and years of dealing with the adult population, we know there are some major areas typically in need of help when it comes to adding and maintaining mobility.

The typical problem areas we focus on are:

  1. Ankles
  2. Hips
  3. Thoracic Spine

We know these are generally the major problem areas, getting “tight” or “stiff” on just about everyone due to age, sedentary lifestyle, or injury/illness. Just mobilizing these three areas can have huge benefits for you or your clients. With our employee population, we add mobility exercise for these areas throughout every warm-up and workout.

(Believe it or not, it’s worth check the big toe as well. Think about it, if you can’t bend your big toe where can your foot go?).


A special note about ankle mobility

Ankles are hugely important to the rest of the system. Our foot/ankle complex is the first interaction we typically have with our environment, from a tactile standpoint. If we lack ROM in the ankle joint, we lack sensory feedback from our environment, which leads to a lack of motor control and eventually: INJURY!

This lack of motor control is why ankle injuries are many times recurring or lead to injury further up the chain. The initial injury leads to a change in motor control which, when left unaddressed, continues to cause further trouble.


Example Ankle Mobility Exercises

Soft Tissue Work

   Static Stretch

        1/2 Kneeling Ankle Mobs


Example Hip Mobility Exercises

Soft Tissue Work

1/2 Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

Example T-Spine Mobility Exercises

Soft Tissue Work

Side Lying 90/90 T-Spine Rotation

Quadruped T-Spine Rotation



 Final thoughts

If training general population, especially employee populations, mobility is one of the greatest qualities we can add to influence proper movement, pain, and injury. In general, our sedentary lives combined with years of little nicks and bruises add up to improper mobility.

Without proper mobility, our joints simply don’t have enough sensory input to regain proper movement patterns, leading to further issues. Add a little oil to the joints and watch as you reap the rewards.

More information

For more info on the Joint-by-Joint Theory, check out Gray Cook’s article on his website here:

Expanding on the Joint-by-Joint Approach

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